Gascón’s reforms at odds with public safety and LA voters
(excerpt from the Los Angeles Daily News - 12.9.20)
The arrogance of power reached new heights, or depths, in California on Monday. Newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón disregarded the just-declared will of the voters and announced that he personally is abolishing cash bail.
Moments after being sworn in, Gascón announced that he was eliminating cash bail for anyone charged with a misdemeanor or a “non-violent, non-serious” felony. He said anyone currently in jail who wouldn’t have had to pay cash bail under his new policy may seek release from jail immediately, and his office “will not contest their release.”
What makes this a specimen of arrogance is that L.A. County voters just voted specifically to retain the cash bail system. Proposition 25 on the Nov. 3 ballot was a referendum on a bail reform law passed by the Legislature. It would have replaced cash bail with a system of risk assessment on a case-by-case basis. The same voters who gave Gascón the job as D.A. said by a margin of 54.7% to 45.3% that they wanted cash bail to continue. The statewide vote was similar, 56.4% to 43.6%.
Proponents of Proposition 25 proposed a complex bail reform that included the use of computerized assessment tools to evaluate whether an arrested person posed a danger to public safety or was a “flight risk” who would not show up for a future court appearance.
It was carefully crafted, but voters said no.
Gascón is ignoring the voters and instituting his own version of bail reform. No need for risk assessment, he contends. In a “Special Directive” issued by his office before the chairs were warm, he wrote, “There are well-documented concerns among social science researchers that risk assessment tools cannot predict what they aim to predict and perpetuate racial bias.”
So the new system sprung on L.A. County simply gives the benefit of the doubt to everybody who’s arrested. “All individuals shall receive a presumption of own recognizance release without conditions. Conditions of release may only be considered when necessary to ensure public safety or return to court,” the directive states.
In “non-serious” felony cases, prosecutors who seek pretrial detention of a person they believe to be a threat to public safety will have to prove that “the facts are evident and clear and convincing evidence shows a substantial likelihood that the defendant’s release would result in great bodily harm to others or the defendant’s flight.”
This means that if the facts simply tend to show a risk that the defendant’s release would result in harm to others, that’s not good enough to justify pretrial detention. Gascón is effectively asking prosecutors to prove in advance that the defendant will go out and nearly kill somebody in order to hold that person in pretrial detention.